I was looking forward to another great-tasting coffee experience—until I found out that “cut chon” is Vietnamese for “civet cat dung”
On a recent trip to Hanoi, Vietnam’s coffee-mad capital, a local friend exhorted me to seek out a cup of ca phe cut chon—what she cryptically referred to as “weasel coffee.”
Having happily consumed a variety of Vietnamese java at cafés across the city, including the sublime ca phe sua da, iced espresso blended with sweetened condensed milk, I was looking forward to another great-tasting experience. Then I Googled ca phe cut chon.
Cut chon is Vietnamese for civet cat dung.
The civet cat, not a cat but a relative of the mongoose, is native to Southeast Asia’s jungles. Sometime after French colonists introduced robusta coffee to Vietnam in the mid-19th century, coffee growers found that beans eaten and excreted by wild civets produced a richer, more mellow drink than those simply harvested from the fields. (The practice began, supposedly, when European colonists wouldn’t share coffee beans with natives, who wanted to try the drink and resourcefully picked the beans out of civet dung.)
Many coffee producers use captive civets today, but the process remains the same. Civets are fed robusta coffee cherries, the coffee plant’s fruit. The civet’s digestive enzymes partially ferment the fruit’s stones—coffee beans—and strip much of their harsh flavors. (Bitter-tasting robusta, arabica’s cheaper, faster-growing cousin, is ubiquitous in Vietnam. Which is why sweetened condensed milk is a constant companion to Vietnamese black coffee.) After a thorough washing, the “dung” beans are roasted and ready for brewing.
All of this sounded a bit unpleasant, but a friend and I mustered up the courage to taste ca phe cut chon one sweltering afternoon at Café Mai, a Hanoi institution famous for its version of the drink. Sitting on a balcony overlooking a motorbike-filled street, we ordered two coffees. Small white cups topped with piping hot metal drip coffee filters arrived at the table. When the coffee was ready, we removed the filters, examined the dark brew and took a sip.
I braced myself for pungent, earthy flavors. Instead, the coffee was smooth and rich, all salty caramel and bittersweet chocolate. The sharp bite that I had come to associate with Vietnamese coffee was nonexistent. “It tastes like 99% cacao,” my friend said excitedly.
We lingered over the drinks for a while and then called for the bill—at 55,000 Vietnamese dong, or $2.70, it was more expensive than a typical Hanoi cup, but well worth the difference in flavor.
Only later did I realize that we’d grossly underpaid. It turns out that certified civet-fermented coffee, which is also produced in Indonesia and the Philippines, can sell for up to $600 per pound. At a London department store recently, a single cup cost £50, or $80.
So how does Café Mai keep the price down? They’ve cut civets out of the production process. Using artificial fermenting methods, Café Mai, along with other Vietnamese roasters like Trung Nguyen, have brought the flavor of ca phe cut chon to the masses.
Whether the traditionally fermented coffee truly tastes different, I obviously can’t say. But if you have $600 burning a hole in your wallet, order some and let Food & Think know.
—By Jon Brand, a writer based in Austin, Texas. You can read more of his work at www.jonbrandwrites.com.
Other names of weasel coffee you may have heard of are kopi luwak, civet coffee, and cat poop coffee. It is one of the most luxury coffees known around the world. In Vietnam, we call it “ca phe chon”.
Is Vietnam weasel coffee really made from poop?
Yes and no. The coffee beans are collected from the weasel droppings, but the final product has been cleaned and processed. So there is no poop in your cup of coffee, which is a good start to consider should you try weasel coffee in Vietnam.
The process of making regular beans for Vietnamese coffee is picking the ripe coffee cherries by hand, washing off the dirt and removing bad cherries (dried, small pip, unripe). The qualified cherries are put in grinders to remove the pips from the flesh, and the beans are fermented in tanks for 24 – 36 hours. After that, they will be dried on racks in a tented house, protected from the sun, rain, and insects, and roasted until they have a dark brown color.
The final products of both coffees are not much different in look. The main difference between the normal coffee beans and the weasel coffee beans is that the flesh removing and fermenting processes are done by the weasel inside its organ instead of the human.
The weasel will find and eat the best ripe coffee cherries, digesting the flesh and excrete the pips. To take out the coffee beans and remove the dirt and outer skin, the feces from the weasel will be cleaned and rinsed. The beans when dried become hardened and have a moss green color. The final step is to roast the beans until they have a golden brown color and grind into powder.
Should you try weasel coffee in Vietnam?
Weasel coffee is sold worldwide and across Vietnam. It is exported in the form of powder or raw material (beans still attached in the dropping). It is slightly different from civet coffee from Indonesia because the two species are quite different, so the best weasel coffee can be said to be in Vietnam. But another factor to consider when you wonder if you should try weasel coffee in Vietnam is the production method.
Lam Dong and Dak Lak in Central Highland are the two most well-known regions for producing coffee and weasel coffee in Vietnam. There have not been official records of how much Vietnam weasel coffee is produced, but the coffee beans collected from weasels in the wild are much less (about 40-50 kg per year), compared to the amount collected from the weasels raised in cages. Many producers boast to have been producing tonnes of coffee beans per years with the later method.
However, this approach to exploit weasel coffee also creates controversy as the living conditions of the weasels in the farms are not guaranteed. In some poorly invested farms, they are held in narrow wire mesh cages, living in a dirty environment, and fed an unbalanced diet with only coffee cherries instead of other foods like insects and reptiles. This has made the environment enthusiasts to create campaigns against it.
Where to try weasel coffee in Vietnam?
There are many places like Ben Thanh Market and supermarkets in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam selling packaged weasel coffee powder and the raw beans as well. The price ranges from VND 600,000 to VND 10,000,000 per kg because the transporting fees, the coffee bean producing process, and the ratio of weasel coffee beans in the powder are different. But the sources, the authenticity, and quality of these products are unclear.
Another option is to go to the showroom of coffee producers where they also sell the drink made from weasel coffee beans. One of the places puts up the price at VND 165,000/75 gram for Robusta beans and VND 300,000/75 gram for Mocha beans (with 10% of weasel coffee beans and 90% regular coffee beans). But still, as there is no farm in Ho Chi Minh City and it takes time, you cannot see the whole process from the beans taken out from weasel droppings to the ground fine powder to make your coffee.
The best way to have weasel coffee in Vietnam is to go to the actual sources which are farms in Dak Lak and Lam Dong. Here you can visit the farm where the farmers collect the beans, see the weasel, their living conditions in the farm, and the coffee production process.
If you want to stop by a cafe in Ho Chi Minh City that serves the weasel coffee, you can visit here:
Legend Revived Weasel Coffee – 49 Hau Giang, Ward 4, Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City
History of Vietnam weasel coffee
Since the French colonized Indochina in the 19th century and developed the coffee plantation along with tea growing industry near forests in the Central Highland of Vietnam in the early 20th century, the weasel coffee naturally came into being. The weasel got into the plantation, ate coffee cherries, and crapped out the beans; the farmers collected these and tried to make coffee with them because the regular ones are only for the privileges such as French colonists and nobles of Nguyen dynasty. It was not until the sensation of the Indonesian kopi luwak around the world in the 1990s that weasel coffee in Vietnam gets more popular.
Does Vietnam weasel coffee taste different from regular coffee?
This would depend on the person’s taste buds sensitivity. The taste, color, and smell of coffee liquid are slightly different from the coffee made from regular coffee beans. The color is actually lighter because of the roasting process. The coffee is still distinct by its bitter taste, chocolate brown color, and earthy smell from the roasted beans.
Is there health benefits to drinking weasel coffee?
To answer the question should you try weasel coffee in Vietnam, you may need to read this part. The scientific reports on the health benefits of the weasel coffee, other than those that can be offered by regular coffee, are controversial and could be manipulated to the interests of producers and protestors.
It is believed that the cherries selection and the chemical reactions inside the weasel’s organ are what make weasel coffee special. Enzymes of the weasel will reduce the amount of caffeine, break down the protein particles into amino acids, and also extract different kinds of sugar from the starch of the bean. That is why the weasel coffee has a smoother texture, better smell, and sweeter taste. The lower amounts of protein and caffeine also make weasel coffee healthier than the regular one.
Conclusion on Should You Try Weasel Coffee in Vietnam?
Weasel coffee is one of the most expensive kinds of coffee, but it can also be considered animal cruelty. There are two reasons that you might want to consider should you try the weasel coffee in Vietnam. Firstly, it is the place of origin of weasel coffee, and thus you can enjoy it the most authentic way. Secondly, you can go to the sources and decide if the legend and the sources are true and if the producers actually treat the animal badly.
However, you should note that increasing demands for Vietnam weasel coffee can endanger the weasels. Some producers that go after big profits, large production, and expense cutting may over exploit the weasels for the coffee beans
Everyone seems to have an opinion on coffee. People get hot under the collar about their favourite cup of the black stuff; how they drink it, how you should drink it, and God forbid if you don’t drink it!
It seems that coffee gets big reactions from everyone – maybe it’s got something to do with that psychoactive substance we know as caffeine.
With that in mind, here’s a run-through of the types of equipment you can use to make the perfect cup of coffee at home.
First up is the Italian classic, the percolator – a truly iconic piece of equipment. It’s also known by a host of other names, including moka pot, stove top, caffettiera and macchinetta. On the up side, the percolator is a beautiful Italian coffee maker that looks the part and creates great-tasting espresso that can be used for lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites. On the down side, it’s a bit labour intensive and you can only make one or two cups of coffee at a time.
How to use a percolator
- Start by filling the bottom chamber with hot water, up to just below the steam valve.
- Pop the filter basket on top of the chamber and fill it with coarsely ground coffee. Pat the coffee down slightly, then screw on the top chamber.
- Place your percolator over a moderate heat for around 5 minutes, or until your coffee appears in the top chamber.
- Remove your percolator from the heat, stir the coffee, close the lid, then pour.
Tip: Use freshly boiled water to fill your percolator, otherwise the pot will get very hot heating up cold water. This will overheat the coffee and damage the taste.
The AeroPress is the go-to quality tool for making great coffee on the road. Its small, compact nature means it can fit in your luggage and it’s sturdy enough not to get broken in transit. It really is a satisfying, geeky way to make an excellent cup of coffee, and once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s super-quick. It’s considered to be one of the very best ways to make coffee, hence why there are AeroPress championships around the world.
How to make coffee with an AeroPress
- Set up your AeroPress using the inverted method.
- Put the filter in the disk and wet with hot water.
- Put 1 scoop of coffee into your AeroPress, fill with enough hot water for 1 cup, give it a stir and leave for around 1 minute.
- Screw on the cap and filter, place your cup over the top, then flip the cup and AeroPress over.
- Press down steadily (but don’t push out all of the water), remove your AeroPress, then enjoy.
Tip: Stop plunging when you hear a hissing sound.
The French press, also known as the cafetière, is another iconic and well-known piece of brewing equipment. It’s the best way to make several cups of coffee quickly, perfect for five or six people. It’s also great if you want to make a batch of coffee for cold brew, and can be used to infuse loose leaf tea as well. The biggest mistake people can make with cafetières is using the wrong grind, and therefore not getting the proper extraction. Make sure you use a coarse grind, similar in size to pan bread crumbs.
How to make French press coffee
- Fill your French press with 6 tablespoons of coarsely ground coffee (the exact amount will depend on the size of your press – use the water-to-coffee ratio 10:1 as a guide).
- Add 900ml hot (but not boiling) water and give it all a stir.
- Leave your coffee to brew for around 4 minutes, keeping the lid off.
- Using a spoon, scoop out the grounds that have floated to the top, then place the lid on.
- Slowly push down the plunger, then serve.
Tip: Scooping the grounds and foam from the top before you plunge will help reduce ‘sludge’ and give a cleaner tasting cup.
We’ve all seen the classic pot coffee or drip-brewed coffee machines associated with many American diners. The problem with using these coffee machines is that the coffee tends to sit and stew on the machine’s hot plates, making it thoroughly unpalatable. However, in recent years, the cheap and simple designs of the Chemex and V60 pour over devices have seen filter coffee make something of a comeback. Filter coffee tends to have a subtler, smoother taste compared to the power of an espresso.
How to make drip-filter coffee
- Place the cone on top of the container and insert the paper filter into the cone.
- Pass boiling water over the filter and allow it to drip through into the container (this will remove any starchy taste and help the coffee drip through more easily). 3. Discard the papery water and reposition the cone on top of the container.
- Grind your beans to a reasonably coarse consistency (or use pre-ground), then pour into the paper filter.
- Slowly and carefully pour a little (30ml or so) hot water over your grounds in a circular motion, starting in the centre and moving outwards.
- After about 1 minute, pour more hot water over the wet grounds, again, starting in the middle and circling outwards. Keep pouring until you’ve filled the cup below to the level you want.
- The brewing will have finished when the dripping from the cone to the cup starts to slow (after about 1 or 2 minutes).
- Remove the filter from the cone, pour, and enjoy.
Tip: The grind for drip coffee needs to be in between the coarseness of that you’d use with a French press and the fineness of that you’d use with a percolator.
Cold brew coffee makes a delicious chilled beverage that’s perfect for the summer months, but it’s also amazing served hot. The term cold brew simply refers to the process of steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for a prolonged period of time, usually 12 hours or more. It can be drunk neat or mixed with dairy or nut milks to create moreish alternatives to your daily caffeine fix.